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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Would you pass?

Love them or hate them, tests are everywhere. Whether you're walking up to a random girl, ordering a drink from a veteran bartender, or sitting in a class actually taking a test, you are probably being tested and there for, taking a test. This is because we are inquisitive, skeptical people, who want to know who we are talking to, whether they are worth our time, or for the less trusting among us, whether or not they mean to harm us.

I understand that there is a potential that most people don't think this way, but this isn't for those people. They don't read, understand subtext and don't think about the situations they find themselves in tactically. I don't know most people, so I can't speak for them, nor have i taken the time to look for a study on this devilish advocacy, so I am going to continue under the assumption that most people do probe those around them, attempting to clean prejudice's grime from their perspective.

We've all had that feeling, when you are talking to someone and everything seems to be going really well, then you decide to make a sexist joke and he/she reacts horribly. They failed your test and you theirs'. There isn't too much wrong with this, some people just aren't meant to associate, as sad as that is, because we all have boundaries constructed after painful injuries, that we only let people cross if they continue passing our tests.

Now if God exists, he is certainly testing us. One of the hardest tests I have ever found myself facing was a mangy dog. If you look at one and don't weep inside, there is something wrong with you. You can see the pain in their eyes as the mites burrow into their skin and hair follicles and they start to loose their hair from over scratching and destruction by the mites themselves. Unfortunately for these animals, who constantly feel the urge to scratch, they are poorly equipped to.

Could you look at an animal, obviously diseased, whose skin oozes and smells and humble yourself to pet it? If so you are probably a really good person and should probably go wash your hands immediately and maybe find a bath for the animal. It will go a long way with the animal who is also likely spurned and under nourished.

No matter where you find yourself, be alert, some one is probably watching you, God or otherwise.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Leaves of Grass

Writing is often about inspiration, moments when words fall on the page in a way that seems perfect, like no other arrangement is could better describe a feeling, or thought. I think mostly this is about setting, and I recently found the perfect place to write and be inspired: A little greenhouse, nestled on the border of a forest and field. It's filled with hundred of plants, insects, and the hundreds of odds and ends that go into keeping diverse gardens lush.  My favorite part: the dirt that coats nearly every flat surface. I like it dirty.



Sounds pretty distracting right? Well it is. When I wrote this, I spent more time looking at the living creatures around me than putting ink to paper, but I fully expect to find inspiration in the air these plants produce for me. Maybe too inspiration is carried on the water logged wings of the crane fly I rescued from certain doom in a puddle, who is presently still struggling for life, but will likely be eaten by the baby black snake who just slithered across the cold, dirty brick beneath my feet.

I've always thought it funny when people freak out over tiny insects, which pose them no threat and are maybe 1/1,000,000th their body mass. Maybe those people are trying to be endearing, or it is some deeply ingrained survival mechanism that they genetically can't escape and has kept us safe from potential threats, but it's still no place for fear. I can only imagine what they would say if they saw me put a jumping spider on the tip of my finger and hold it up to my face, looking eye to eyes (luckily one has never hopped onto my face, because that might be enough to make me scream like a girl and slap myself in the face a few times.)

You have to wonder if this is one of the signs of our unbalanced relationship with nature. I've been fortunate to have been out in the wilderness, if you will, many times and have grown a fond attachment to trees and other living things. After all, aren't they going through the same struggles to live and eat that we are, if not quite so complex? All of us together, out here on the rim of the Galaxy, resisting entropy best we can.

I can see myself living in a greenhouse one day, surrounded by the plants that feed me in one of natures oldest commenalistic relationships. My own little terrarium. I could do without the baby snake and the spider, who just spared a horse flies life, but it is definitely an uplifting, fresh environment to be in. Just so you know I didn't spare the horse fly, who has to be one of the biggest assholes of the insect world. Go out and find a plant friend, and remember you need them, but they don't need you!


Friday, May 9, 2014

Rural Exploration

I think I'm going to continue the trend of mysterious places and things for a while. Recently I ran into (I have no idea how, as is often then case on the internet) stories about a satanic cult that had supposedly taken up residence at an old abandoned Church in Hollis NC. You probably know that I'm not the type to believe in the super natural-- I've always thought ghost stories were dumb-- but I do believe in satanic cults.

The story starts more than ten years ago on a dark, empty feeling night preceding Halloween in Hollis, when a local drove across a bridge that had been lined with the carcasses of several species of mammals. I probably wouldn't have the same reaction to this ("Oh, how artistic") as most people would, but if I'm living in a rural, undeveloped town of only about a thousand people, maybe, I'm going to be freaked out. My story will quickly spread to those around me.

Who would do such a sordid thing? Clearly it was the satanic cult that has taken up residence in the old boarded up church, which is protected by a black wrought iron gate and a giant pad lock. The locals insist that it was just hunters playing a prank, who arranged the animals, and the church is supposedly used once a year for someones family reunion, but I'm not buying it. Who has a family reunion in a musty boarded up church in the middle of no where, behind an old burnt down gym? Satanists!

Now I'm a fan of exploration, I always have and I'm one of those people who is sad that he/she was born to late to explore the oceans blue and cosmos wide, so I think I will run down to that church some time. Do I expect to find the carcasses of sacrificed goats, pentagrams and wax candles burnt to the point that they run over onto the floor, like stalactites? Hell no, but I'm going to be in a place that few people ever have and in a tiny NC town no one has ever heard of. Sounds like fun to me, who's in?




Whether you live in a city, or out in the country, or even on the internet, there are countless places to explore, people to meet and perspectives to adopt. If I could give one piece of advice, it would be to never stay in one place, or situation for too long, especially if it doesn't make you happy. If your worlds' at large, why should you remain?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Frosted Ambassador

Good morning readers, the few and proud. It's time for a break from science like topics for a while so I'm going to talk about some music today. If you know me, you probably also know that if I'm awake, I'm probably listening to music. New stuff, old stuff, folk, edm, rap, you name it and I probably listen to at least a little of it.

I came across an album by happenstance tonight that I like enough to tell you it's story. Most things have stories: the pair of shoes with heavily worn soles, the fallow garden and even the toe nail that fall through the clippers. Most however don't have stories quite like the album the Frosted Ambassador, whose creators are  unknown.


The album artwork is provided by William Cullen Hart, one of the founders of the record company the Elephant 6 collective. He also provided art for his own projects and several of the other E6 bands. I like it, it lacks traditional forms, like must of the album, but offers enough symbolism to make you stop and think a while.

One of the most romantic stories of it's origin has an artist, who after leaving Chronicle Ape And The New Sound, fails in a solo career, leaving the country for Belgium, where the album was recorded. It was later mistakenly mailed back to family in Georgia by an American serviceman who found it underneath a Goose. According to the fable, it then eventually ended up discarded in a shoe in a thrift shop. It was released by Kindercore Records, with a press release telling this story. Evidence points to another reality.

If you've ever listened to any of the Elephant six artists (Neutral Milk Hotel, early of Montreal, Olivia Tremor Control,) you can immediately relate the sound in some way.  it is most commonly referred to as Eric Harris' (the drummer for OTC) side project, but this is just speculation.. Another clue lies along the way: Olivia Tremor Control named a song The Frosted Ambassador on a later released album Dusk At Cubist Castle, thus backing up previous suspicions about the creators.

While good money bets this album is a collaborative work of several of the E6 artists, putting the album out in a mysterious way for their own shits and giggles, wouldn't you rather the release story be true? A failed artists work, being released and unknowingly and brings joy to the thousands of people who have come in contact with it's unique rhythms and solid percussion.

Now if you actually listen to this, remember it's experimental. It will make you think of early Pink Floyd, sometimes the Beatles, and at other times it will seem extremely modern. It's fun and definitely worth at least a listen or two, especially the songs with more formal structures, like track 5 (oh yeah did I mention that none of the songs have names?) or track 3.

Mystery is fun, It keeps us guessing and gets us talking to people we might never have before, simply because we have opposing or matching predictions. Here's to a little more mystery and excitement in all of our lives this summer. Happy Listening!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Thor's Hammer!

Well not really, but I'm sure the Norse god of lightning, thunder, storms, oaks and strength is at least in some part of the minds of the Norwegian engineers and scientists, who are presently testing Thorium in their experimental reactor. Their company is called Thor Energy and they are one of the few places in the world at which Thorium is actively being used to produce energy. Their five-year test seeks to determine which blend of elements produces the most stable and efficient reaction.

Thorium isn't anything new(obviously, it's billions of years old), it was explored as nuclear fuel for civilian and military purposes during the cold war, but because of it's complicated reactor requirements, was put on the shelf for some 30 years-- in the United states that is. Several other countries have experimented with its use since the United States introduced the technology during the 60's: Germany, India, U.K., Norway, China, Japan and a few others grace that list.

Currently, there is only one Nation attempting to implement Thorium Reactors as base load power plants on its grid: China. This is great news! Some people would disagree with my optimism, saying that China will rule the patent market on the Equipment for the cleanest of the reactor types that use thorium, the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor. That isn't good, I'll admit, but it is estimated that China will be able to produce the technology for as much as $3 billion less than the U.S. It will cost us less to buy from them than produce them here.

What about the Jobs? That's another discussion entirely, but I'll suffice to say that I hate to see them go to China simply because the labor is cheaper. Who will china sell their reactors and fuel to? Again a question begging to be answered at another time. Do know that there is an American company working on a molten uranium reactor and Japan is building a test reactor using a Thorium-Plutonium molten salt fuel, but neither of these is quite as good as the Th-232/U233 LFTR reactor in terms or cleanliness or safety. It's a technology who's time will come.

China needs this badly. Their Coal plant production, which often does not include combined cycle technology, or carbon sequestration, is the most caustic in the world.

That's Beijing and no that isn't Fog. It's a polluted haze that often sits over the city (especially on days with no  windy,) which is causing Hundreds of thousands of deaths and respiratory problems for Chinese citizens every year. In China alone, estimates attribute as many as 250,000 deaths per year to particulates from coal plants. With their new LFTR reactors, China will be able to significantly reduce it's emissions and slowly reverse the damage they have done to their ecosystem, without further propagating many of the problems that face conventional nuclear plants.

Now there are those out there who talk about Thorium in a sense that likens it to traditional Nuclear energy. Let me be very clear: It's vastly different. This isn't your grandpappy's reactor. Yes we are still taking advantage of heat released when the strong nuclear force being severed, but the byproducts are very different, they don't use water to cool them, the fuel is resistant to weaponization, and it has many different industrial applications.

Many of the products in the decay chain of Th 232-U 233 breeder reactors have significantly shorter half-lives as compared to the LWR (light water reactor) U-238/P-239 counterparts, whose half-lives can be as long as 200,000 years. What do I mean by significantly shorter? Well after 350 years, the waste from a thorium reactor will be no more adverse to your health than uranium ore fresh out of the earth. This doesn't necessarily shatter an environmentalist's argument against the waste, but it should also be noted that little to no transuranic (elements heavier than uranium) waste is produced.

Not to one up my previous point, and I'ma let myself finish, but this is the best reactor of all time. A LFTR reactor can actually use the spent rods from old nuclear reactors (the rods are mixed with thorium into one fuel,) significantly reducing environmental risk previously brought on by the nuclear power industry. Similarly, Ben Lindly, a PhD candidate at Cambridge designed a way to use the old waste in traditional reactors and Japan is working on implementing the design as we speak.

What about actinide waste says my one reader who knows a thing or two about nuclear reactions? In a LFTR most of those are burned up too. It almost seems that for every problem conventional Nuclear power has, this reactor design has a solution.

The passive safety of LFTR's has also leaped one of the hurdles that environmental groups have placed in front of Nuclear Energy. Ignorance leaves a lot of room for fear and there are a lot of people praying on people's perceptions of nuclear power plants, especially after Fukushima. They cast the fear of meltdowns over all of nuclear energy, instead of doing their research. In a LFTR reactor, you are more likely to be crushed by a falling wind generator than die to a meltdown. It just can't happen, because there literally isn't enough fissile material in the molten salt to cause a catastrophic chain reaction. The safety is built passively into the reaction's composition.

To be fair, U-233 can be used to make a weapon however, it's very difficult and the resulting device isn't very powerful. Let's be real though, there were bombs less than three years after Chicago pile-1 split its first atom. During the cold war, we tested far more nuclear weapons technologies than we did civilian applications. In some senses the ability to create a thermo-nuclear device is a right of passage for a countries military, as sad as that is, it might be true.

My absolute favorite part of the LFTR reactor is some of the secondary products that can be made inexpensively by these reactors. Because a LFTR operates at a much higher temperature than a regular reactor, as it is a molten metal salt mixture in the core and is cooled by liquid fluoride instead of water, it's heat can be put to many more uses than simply creating steam. On the laundry list is methanol, ammonia, and water desalination. Interestingly, the Wind energy business is also interested in creating methanol, but the electrolysis method is not nearly as effective as a base load thorium plant performing the same action.

The reason we are seeing this secondary use of energy is that wind is unreliable, and they are often producing energy when the load is low (making the wind energy virtually useless as the base load plant can't easily quit production to make way for the resurgent wind farm) or not producing energy when it is needed. This commercial application of energy does create net zero carbon fuels, but it isn't going to be much to write home about.

Going back to my favorite part of a LFTR reactor, we find one of the most interesting potential applications. There has been recent research done with attaching alpha-decaying particles to antibodies that bind to cancer cells. While bound to the cell, the metal with a relatively short half-life with shoot off an alpha particle, whose effective radius is only a couple cell diameters, and will hopefully kill the cancer cell. The benefit of this kind of treatment it's ability to target widespread forms of cancer, which are difficult to treat with traditional radiation therapy (Leukemia for example), while avoiding the widespread damage that Chemotherapy causes.

One such radioisotope is formed during the decay chain of LFTR reactors: Bismuth 213. Practicality tells me that it won't be LFTR reactors creating these and instead specially designed reactors like those creating technetium-99 (the most widely used radioisotope in medicine,)  but the research into the molten salt reactor will help those wishing to use thorium's products for medicine.

I believe that the arguments against LFTR reactors will fall on deaf ears when our country is ready to make the switch, and I hope it is a project that our government will soon add to its focus. The reactor has far-reaching, positive impacts on the way we create energy. It's cleaner, safer, cheaper in the long run (thorium is basically free and considered waste in mining operations,) and better than any of the renewable energies at producing a power at the base load level. Who knows, maybe this might be the next lift our economy needs.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Pre-debate

Jenna brushed some lint from the Shoulders of Jeremiah's navy blue suit, tightened his red tie and straightened the American flag pin on his lapel. One could tell just how fit he was, even in a suit and Jenna hoped that the audience would note this too. One of the strongest parts of his campaign were those on health and nutrition, and while the tub of lard from New Jersey wanted to jump on the healthy living band wagon, by doing a fat burning diet routine that lets America track his diet and wait loss, Jeremiah had been at the wheel for the majority of his adult life and was hoping he would avoid having to address this issue.

"You look great, now go out there and be yourself" Jenna said, giving him encouragement that she knew he didn't need. He always looked so cool, even now before his first presidential debate. She knew that he did not need to worried at all, because she also knew just how much he had prepared for the debate. Jeremiah knew, that she knew both of these things, so they didn't say anything else about it. 

"Beeeee yourself! BZZZZ!!!!" They both laughed. Holly wondered how he could possibly joke at a time like this. Perhaps that is the secret to not loosing your head in stressful situations, just a little laughter.

The hall in which the debate was to be held, was buzzing with chatter, about what Jeremiah could not have cared less. He simply mouthed through some of his responses to predicted questions, gave Holly a kiss on the cheek and walked onto the stage to a warm welcome. He smiled and waved and took his place at the dark oak lectern. No note cards in hand, just irresolute confidence.

Looking out at the crowd, who were sitting in the red, cushioned seats, Jeremiah realized that he had sat in one of those very seats some twenty years ago as a college student. He remembered not enjoying what the candidates had to say and thought that while they said a lot, they meant nothing. This, and many other grievances were on the impetus list that put his two feet where they were. 

Mostly the crowd consisted of; Journalists, who were already tweeting and penning away; people who organized the event; and friends and family of the campaigns, which included some staffers. The remaining 25% of the crowd was students. When he spotted the seat he had sat in some twenty years ago, he saw a young male student, looking around in near wonderment and taking the scene in. The student begged many questions, but it was time for a debate. He took one deep breath, closed his eyes and opened them with his usual, unwavering focus.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Marijuana

Today, class, I'd like to talk about a subject near and dear to my heart: Marijuana. Now Marijuana is on the rise. A plant once enslaved will soon be allowed to involuntarily spread across the United States, out doors that is. You see, right now Marijuana is getting a bad rap, and it should. Not for the usual reasons that you might expect. No I don't care about kids doing drugs, or the mental side effects, or addiction, or it often becoming a part of people's budgets when it shouldn't be. The only thing about marijuana that I care about is it's new found large effect on the environment.

Whatchyou say? You heard it, Marijuana production is a disaster right now. Nearly all of it is grown indoors, meaning all of the energy that a plant normally needs and gets from the Sun and it's surrounding environment, for free, is being pulled of the grid. Lights you say? Yeah, those are pretty bad and are on nearly 16 hours a day average across a plants life time, which uses a lot of energy, but there is a LOT more involved. After one includes such factors as, water pumps, space heaters, automatic trimmers, CO2 extraction machines (which because of Co. new ppm laws for marijuana extract products, is about to become a lot more popular,) transportation, the production of fertilizers, the constantly run ventilation and CO2 supply, Indoor marijuana production is estimated to be responsible for as much as 1% of total domestic energy use.

That's fucking crazy right? Of importanc with this statistic is it's likely inflated nature. There are a lot of factors that aren't 100% such as total black market Marijuana production each year, which is far more extensive than legal grows. Common sense tells me that that number is probably inflated, but not by much. Several years ago I remember a grow mansion being busted, for millions of dollars of Marijuana, grown in an underground series of tunnels which stretched for miles. I doubt any of their plants saw the light of day until they were processed and being sold or smoked in someone's apartment.

It's a shame right? Getting high isn't the smartest thing to do, but it plays it's role in keeping individuals balanced in this crazy fast paced world, where most of us are barely getting by.  It's an uphill battle we are fighting, but we are almost at the summit. The beautiful thing about legalizing marijuana (aside from the plants) on a national scale, is that more research into growing techniques and outdoor grows will become viable. The wind will replace the ventilation systems, the sun will make LED light boxes look ridiculous, and the Marijuana plant will once again get a grip in the soils of the western world.

Legalize it! it's not just about taxes and getting high folks.